Mixed martial arts (MMA) is the fastest growing sport in the world. However, due to recent setbacks in the UFC (the largest MMA promotion), MMA’s once growing fan base could soon lose interest with it altogether.
There are three main issues plaguing MMA.
The first is repeat fights. It seems like in every division there is a bottleneck effect where one guy is clogging up the entire weight class. In the welterweight division, for instance, Georges St. Pierre has reigned supreme for the better part of a decade. He has fought Matt Hughes three times, Josh Koscheck twice, Matt Serra twice, and BJ Penn twice. In order to keep the fans interested, promoters need to be able to sell new and exciting fights, but that could become increasingly more difficult with congestion at the top of the heap.
In the middleweight division, we see a similar bottleneck with the champ Anderson Silva. Although he has fought the same opponent multiple times (Rich Franklin, Yushin Okami, and Chael Sonnen), the bigger problem seems to be a lack of suitable contenders. Unlike St. Pierre, Silva has had to fight many people who did not even deserve of a title shot – case in point, UFC 153 this October where Silva faces off against The Ultimate Fighter veteran Stephan Bonnar.
The reason for this unlikely matchup is a result of the main event and co-main event fights being canceled within an hour and a half of each other. Both José Aldo and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson were forced to pull out due to injuries. In order to not have a repeat of UFC 151, which the entire event was canceled due to Dan Henderson sustaining a knee injury during training, UFC had to scramble last minute and put together something that the fans might actually want to see.
In this instance, the UFC may have fallen short. Despite being arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world with a spectacular fighting style, Anderson Silva is more than a 1000 to 1 favorite to win the fight. In other words, Stephan Bonnar is hardly a worthy opponent.
When Dan Henderson pulled out of UFC 151 against Jon Jones, Jones was offered a substitute opponent on eight days notice. After declining to take a replacement fight, Jones was then moved to UFC 152 (September 24th) facing off against The Phenom, Vitor Belfort. Again, this was a result of a lack of viable opponents in the division. Other than Dan Henderson, Jon Jones has decimated all the other top fighters in that weight class.
To prepare for this fight, Belfort enlisted the help of Rashad Evans, the former light-heavyweight champion and former training partner of Jon Jones. However, this puts Evans in a precarious situation because he is also vying for that top contender spot. Until he earns another title shot, Evans will either have to take a fight with a lesser known name, fight a repeat fight, or change weight classes.
The second crippling blow to MMA is the fact that big name draws are beginning to retire. Although, there are a lot of young talented guys coming up, I suspect that there will be fewer stars. The reason for this is because many of the big name stars came up and developed their reputation during a time when the sport was still in its infancy. It was therefore much easier to rise to the top, or have spectacle highlight-reel finishes against lesser-skilled opponents. Now, that is not really the case because the fighters are much more evenly matched than they were in the past.
So what is the final nail in MMA’s coffin? Well, there’s more than one. Despite being banned in many parts of the world including many states in America, the third major problem facing MMA (more specifically UFC) is over saturation. The UFC has a roster of over 200 fighters. In order to keep those fighters active, the UFC needs to have lots of events, which they do – many of which are free on cable TV. The problem with having so many fights is that fans may lose interest. Again with congestion at the top levels of every weight class, there will undoubtedly be more repeat fights or uninteresting matchups. Either way will presumably cause pay-per-view orders to decline.
The bottom line is that MMA cannot grow with lackluster headlining fights. There are only so many ways you can slice a pie. Unless something changes, MMA may be forgotten by all but the hard-core fans as we’ve seen with the sport in the past.
Article by Edward Mullen
Host of The Edward Mullen Podcast